Stirring Up Forgotten Lead: Smelters Across US at Risk

"When a mile-wide tornado roared through Joplin, Mo., it killed 158 people and injured thousands. And it also kicked up toxic remnants from the city’s industrial past that are still haunting its residents on the third anniversary of the disaster."

"'Trees were uprooted, houses were leveled, everything underground was now on the surface,' said Leslie Heitkamp, Joplin’s lead inspector and remediation coordinator. Before the tornado, the southern part of this city of 50,000 had almost no lead contamination but afterward, about 40 percent of yards were contaminated. 'We’re still cleaning up yards every day,' she said. Starting in the early 1800s, people flocked to Joplin to mine lead. Despite a Superfund cleanup in the 1990s, the tornado had no trouble stirring up some of the 9 million tons of toxic wastes left behind from hundreds of mines and 17 smelters.

As tornado season ramps up, and some natural disasters become more common across the United States, experts warn that storms and floods can bring smelters’ ugly past back to the surface. A nationwide study of 229 shuttered smelters found almost 30 percent are located in areas prone to floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes."

Brian Bienkowski reports for Environmental Health News May 21, 2014.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014